Hurray for the bulging bags!!

Every desi that lives here, goes through what can be mind-numbingly boring at the very least, before they visit India – India shopping. No, I am not going to India anytime now.. Sigh! What prompted me to write about this, is the insanely long shopping list I sent to my mother, so she could pack up one of those bulging suitcases that came with my brother this weekend.

So, what is all the deal about. There was a time when, you got stuff in the US, that you didn’t find in India. My peripa (uncle) who moved here about 26 years ago, came home only once in 4 years, called my grandmother once in a month, and called us once in 6 months (perhaps). But when he came home, and opened up his suitcase, we saw a lot of things, we didn’t normally see.

1. Bic Use and throw Pens: Those were very novel when we first saw them, because around then, I used to use those fat ink pens, which had see through ink chambers, and you needed a dropper to fill up. If you got careless, you would overfill them and spill blue ink all over the place. If you were rough with the pen, you might break the nib, and if you were forgetful (like my father), you could put it in your pocket without putting the cap on, and come back home with a big blue patch on your shirt.

2. Disposable Razors: My father and grandfather had a 7 o’clock Edjtech (or something like that) blade, which they carefully handled, put it back in it’s case after every use, until it got dull as a blade of grass. These bright yellow disposable razors, seemed like such a convenient alternative.

3. Hair spray: My uncle always bought me hair spray. To this date, I’ve never really figured out what to do with it. But I tried using it for what it was worth, and found that the results were quite abominable. My hair was no longer smooth and shiny the way it was supposed to be.

4. T-shirts: Bright colored t-shirts that had american basketball, football and baseball team names on them. Of course, we had no clue what the cubs or the bears meant – just thought it was a cool t-shirt and wore it till we outgrew it and then handed it down to cousins who took it all starry-eyed.

5. Crockery: Pyrex and Corningware dishes were so cool. Nobody ever used anything other than the boringly sparkling stainless steel those days. So anything that was glass or porcelein was ‘fashionable’ and ‘classy’. Though my mother was an exception, I doubt if many people really knew how to bake or had an oven for that matter.

6. Shampoos, Moisturizers: Huge bottles of colorful and good-smelling shampoos were always welcome and used till the last drop. Shampoos were so much easier than the yucky ‘shikha’ powder that stuck to everything and was such a pain to wash off. If at all we bought shampoo in India, we only bought the small sachets from which we squeezed out every last drop to manage to get all our hair shampooed.

7. Electric Razors, Hair dryers, toasters, etc: All of this always left you feeling bad. With the converters that were so rarely available those days, these appliances would moderately perform for a couple of months, and then one of the two things – appliance or adapter would conk off and you were left with a whole bunch of useless appliances.

So all of these things and more.. made us look forward to the huge bulging suitcases that came from America. Now that everybody has at least one son or daughter settled in the US, and also because India has become so much of an America itself, buying gifts for people in India is clearly one of the most difficult things to do. Whatever you think of buying is already available in India. In some cases, it’s made in India and sent to the US. In other cases, it’s cheaper or better in India than in the US.

So, when you go to Wal-Mart and stand there by the Home appliances, or Home Decor, or Kitchen aisle, wondering what it is that perhaps your aunt or niece or cousin needs from here, you’re probably right when you think, that they have everything they need except you who are standing at a Wal-mart aisle half way across the world. But when someone in India is standing at one end of Pondy bazaar, wondering what in the world someone who earns in $$ in America needs from those dirty shacks on the roadside, it’s a whole different story – there are endless possibilities.

14 thoughts on “Hurray for the bulging bags!!

  1. Pradeep

    Can you ask him to bring some paruppi podi for me? The paruppu podi @ the Indian store here, sucks! 😦

    PS: if possible, oru full royal challenge whisky. 😛

    Rekha: Paruppu podi agreed..but whisky??? Never heard that before. I guess the possibilities are truly endless.

  2. Aww, this is so nostalgic. I remember my father’s suitcases, full of cheese balls, chocolates, perfumes ( we didn’t know what they were then), my aunts would bring bras ( yeah we desis don’t know how to make them here even now), jeans, shiny toys, and all sorts of stuff, little kitchen gadgets, chopping knives and the works.
    But as Pradeep rightly says these days the count of stuff taken from home abroad is longer-paruppu podi, sambar podi, seeyakai ( yeah I think i was the only maami who sat with seeyakkai in a bathtub in grey London), leaking oily pickles, navarathiri stuff… I mean either way we carry so much stuff.Impossible for us to travel light or what?

    Rekha: Yes, you wouldn’t beleive the kind of stuff I bring from India. Everything from our brooms to navarathri dolls.

  3. padmajav

    Speaking of traveling light, my political science teacher in school once told me that one of our ex- presidents used to travel with his kalloral, because he likes his idlis only if the batter is ground on that!! Hehehe.. Don’t know how far that’s true, though!

    Rekha: Haha.. See.. There is no exception to people who bring stuff from India, the reverse is getting rare now.

  4. So true! In my short stint in the US, i was at a total loss at what to bring back for family, as everything I set my eyes on was made in India …if not India, then Bangalesh or Pakistan! And a list of things on what to get back from India was always so easy to make…
    Nice compilation… i remember the Bic pens too, loved the thick round tip for easy rolling!

    Rekha: I wonder what Chinese people buy in America. After all everything comes from their country.

  5. @padmaja:he he that was v.v.giri of the aatukal in airplane fame
    @rekha:really what do the chinese buy or take?

    Rekha: I have no clue what the chinese buy? Something I should ask a future chinese friend I guess..

  6. Me

    believe it or not we went to India with three empty bags and a half filled fourth bag…came back here with an extra baggage… 🙂 you said everything from golu bommai, dharbai, poonal etc etc…i could easily start a mini giri traders here…:)

    But why do you bring brooms? desi stores in Chicago don’t carry those?

    Rekha: I bought a couple of brooms, a couple of years ago. I still haven’t got to the second one. Not really seen brooms being sold in the local Indian stores. I guess they are available on Devon Ave.

  7. Balaji

    I am yet to set foot in a videshi soil

    And when i do so, then I will bring lotsa Indian stuff and put a platform kadai and sell my goods for a huge profit

    Ha ha ha…

    Rekha: Balaji, I will stand in line to buy from you. Wonder if that will eventually happen one day.

  8. with a ‘India trip’ comin up next month, I have no idea of what to take. I guess shoes, watches n cams are a safe bet…

    Rekha: Shoes? Didn’t know that. I sent my mother a watch all the way from here thinking it was very fancy, but the same week, I saw ads on Sun TV showcasing the same kind, in fact prettier.

  9. Pradeep

    Well, if at all you want to take something home from the US, it makes sense only if it is much more expensive in India than in the US (lap tops? iPhone?)
    As far as bringing from India goes – paruppu podi, idli milagai podi, royal challenge, gold flake kings, Micheal Madana Kama Rajan DVD etc etc 🙂

    Rekha: Depends on whether you really want to spend so much on extended family

  10. I usually take stuff that is not easily available in India like granola bars (my cousins love these. Hersey’s chocs dont meet their bar!), stuff from Bath and Body Works for the ladies (my aunts and cousins go ga-ga over the body sprays and swear that these were made for the hot humid Chennai climate!), XBox or PC games for the kids (I do get these discounted from my Company store, so it’s not that expy for me). It’s tough taking stuff for men since I have to search hard for gadgety things that I can afford (how many “Swiss” Amry knives from Eddie Baeur can you give your uncle??).

    All these fit into one suitcase and I usually come back with 2 suitcases loaded with goodies from Grand Sweets, Surya, Kalpa Druma (great curtains, way nicer than the stuff I can afford from Target!), VTI, home made podis, oorukais, tailored pants, skirts (Long live the tailor breed in India who can copy a pair of well fitting pants to the ‘T’ and great “suiting/shirting” material stores) and much, much more…

    Rekha: Yes, buying for men is a big pain!

  11. Hmm it reminds me of my team mates trip to India first time. She did purchase so mannny stuff for her entire family here. She made sure that she removed the price tag as she earlier had comments that “Hey what you got a T-Shirt for me worth just $10(they see it as Rs.10)”. Even then her baggage was weighing less than the allowed limit.

    But on her return her baggage was so heavy that she had to drop out few items :(. In short she did “India Shopping” in US for her family for 1 week while “US Shopping” lasted 2 full weeks where she managed to bring half of Ambica Depot,Pondy Bazzar stuff 😉

    Rekha: The way things are going.. sometime in the near future, a dollar may well end up being equal to a rupee

  12. ROTFL on the post.

    return to US, many used to pack Narasus coffee powder. besh! besh! romba nanna irukke. lol 🙂

    Rekha: Thanks for the laugh! Narasus coffee – never thought about that…

  13. My baggage on trip to India: books, software, action figures and remote controlled cars for cousins ages 6-15 – 15 lbs, chocolate to distribute to everyone that comes to visit – 10 lbs, Pens and 1.7 oz bottles of cologne for dad’s friends – 5 lbs, small home decor pieces from Pier 1, Cost Plus, etc for mom and her friends – 10 lbs, clothes for the 2 week trip – 10 lbs.

    My baggage on the trip back: clothes – 50 lbs! I like getting a couple of suits made (even though I get to wear them only to job interviews and weddings) and picking up brand-name readymades direct from manufacturers and local outlets – get most of my clothing needs for the next few seasons taken care of at a fraction of the cost. Clothes are simply the best bargain in India.

    Rekha: Men’s clothes are a good bargain in India. Western clothes for women are hard to find in bigger sizes – so that’s a pain. But of course, there is always enough to buy besides the clothes.

  14. Your post brought back memories of 80s when we looked forward to gifts from abroad – shampoos, perfumes, jeans, tee shirts,disposable razors.
    My cousins in the U.S. keep asking me for suggestions regarding what to bring for people here and these days it is alway a problem to get something that you cannot get here.
    When I travel I pick up cleaning aids, kitchen wipes, nail clippers, bath salts,maple syrup, handbags, wallets etc.and always some useful stuff from IKEA.

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